Hospitality and Judgment

Women talk in hushed tones near each others’ ears.
She’s sweet as pie, but she don’t have the sense
God gave a June bug! I add one more cup of sugar
into sun-brewed sweet tea, stirring with a wooden spoon
while Aunt Cathy and my mother discuss,
in hushed tones, the impropriety of a the neighbor’s daughter
dating a boy the color of dried tobacco leaves. Bless her heart.

It’s the twenty-first century, but the careless tones of the women
in the kitchen sound as if we’re in the nineteen-fifties.
Laws, darlin’, use some butter in that cooking!
Lordy-be; tuck your shirt in and button up
girl; you ain’t a hussy. As if
one button, unbuttoned, means I’ll do the same.
As if race even really matters, as if
dating a boy with darker skin means you haven’t been raised right.
There’s a sad and timeless irony in us, Southerners,
in our odd combinations of hospitality and judgment.

We set the table with ‘mater sandwiches
spread with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper;
mush-melon, a sweet, overgrown cantaloupe;
and banana puddin’. And my hands shake
so much that I can’t straighten the silverware,
that I knock over the mercury glass vase full
of sunflowers, and I cannot understand
how my people can be so backwards
and I can still love them so much.

So, this used to be “The Voices of the South at Suppertime” and then it was “My Carolina Voices at Suppertime” and now it’s this. Who knows? It may change some more. I’m still a little on the fence about it.


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